'MythBusters' vs. MacGyver
For their 100th episode, airing tonight, scientific fact checkers Jamie Hyneman and Adam Savage put the old show's tricks to the test; they tell us about choosing this theme for their landmark show, exploding ''Jaws'' myths, and getting the Bat signal
In their six seasons on the Discovery Channel, MythBusters hosts Jamie Hyneman and Adam Savage have tested the veracity of more than 300 legends. But for their 100th episode (airing Feb. 20 at 9 p.m. Eastern; see a clip from the show, below), they’ll take on one of the greatest: TV’s MacGyver.
First, they’ll find out whether MacGyver (Richard Dean Anderson) really could’ve blasted a hole in a wall with one gram of pure sodium. Then, their Build Team — Tory Belleci, Kari Byron, and Grant Imahara — will attempt to replicate the ultralight airplane MacGyver constructed out of bamboo and duct tape. Finally, Hyneman and Savage will face a four-part, timed ”MacGyver challenge”: picking a lock, developing film with common kitchen liquids, building a compass, and devising an aerial signal for a rescue helicopter. Sounds simple, right?
EW.com caught up with Hyneman and Savage to chat about the milestone episode, their proudest MythBusting moments, their personal rules governing the proper disposal of pig carcasses, the time Adam West’s agent called, and why the makers of Lost might want to beware.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Why do a MacGyver theme for your 100th episode?
JAMIE HYNEMAN: We had to work quite a long time to get their cooperation to actually let us show footage from the show. It seemed somehow appropriate for the 100th episode, ’cause in a way, we’re the real MacGyvers. We’re the guys that you would come to to pull something like that off in real life. We could probably do a MythBusters episode about every MacGyver episode.
ADAM SAVAGE: It’s a vein we’ve been waiting to tap ’cause it just dovetails so perfectly with the kind of improvised, can-do-it spirit that we have on our show. And the fact that they worked really hard on MacGyver to have some kind of factual basis behind what they we were doing, in contrast to, like, The A-Team, and most other television shows.
HYNEMAN: In fact, one of the science advisors that we use on the show was a science advisor for MacGyver.
SAVAGE: At the end of the episode, Jamie and I get put through a set of challenges that MacGyver faced on the show. I think that works really well as a way of not just testing the facts of MacGyver, but testing the fact of MacGyver’s problem-solving abilities. My producer said, ”Well, what happens if you guys can’t do it?” And I said, ”Well, I would think that if we can’t do it, we could generally say that MacGyver probably couldn’t have done it. It’s Adam and Jamie, come on!”
HYNEMAN: One of the things we look for, in general, on our show is some grain of truth, and you’ll see it, over and over again, in MacGyver. Yes, there are things that he’s using that will explode, but do they explode with enough energy? Or, he builds a flying device, and yes, you can do that, but would you actually be able to do that in an hour-and-a-half? The devil’s in the details, and that’s where we come into play.
Let’s talk about your entire run: Is there any myth that you were sad to see busted?
HYNEMAN: We’re not going into any of these stories with some kind of preconception. We’re genuinely curious about what’s gonna happen when we do these things — if we’re not, we don’t want to do them. So even if we fail miserably at our attempt, we like that because it means we’ve just learned something. That’s what we’re all about.
Watch a clip from MythBusters‘100th episode:
NEXT PAGE: ”We go to some length to make sure the carcasses are kept refrigerated while we’re not working with them.”
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: I meant ”sad” in the sense that you just liked the idea of that myth being true. Maybe you wanted to see it work for the spectacle.
ADAM SAVAGE: Oh, I have one. It was called ”Killer Cable Snaps.” It’s the idea that if a cable gets stretched to its breaking point [say, on an aircraft carrier], that as it whips when it snaps, it can slice you in half. And to cut to the chase, we got a bunch of pigs and cables stretched to their breaking point, and the pigs weren’t being sliced in half. We started the day thinking we were going to prove this, and we ended the day busting it. And I will admit that I was really hoping to see high-speed shots of cable slicing through pig carcasses, and I would have rather seen that than the dents that we ended up making in the pigs.
JAMIE HYNEMAN: And by the way, we have to note that we have a strict policy that any of these animals we get from the butcher, we eat. If we can’t eat it, we donate it to a soup kitchen. We go to some length to make sure the carcasses are kept refrigerated while we’re not working with them.
Which episode are you most proud of?
SAVAGE: My favorite episode, that I think the science is the most right, is ”Bullets Fired Up”: Will a bullet that you fire directly into the air kill you when it comes back down? We tried it in several different ways, and every single way we tried it — from a shop experiment, to a scaled outdoor experiment, to a full-size outdoor experiment where we fired a full clip of 9mm rounds into the air out in the desert — confirmed the same results. If it’s coming straight down, it won’t kill you. But if you fire it on an angle of even two degrees, it stays on a ballistic trajectory and it will kill you. So when you see someone in a movie fire their automatic rifle on kind of a spray up into the sky, probably all of those bullets are actually deadly. The amount of data we collected on it was more than anybody up to that point had ever achieved on firing bullets into the air.
HYNEMAN: I think one of the more recent episodes we did called ”Lead Balloon” is the best representative of what we do to date.
SAVAGE: I would totally agree with that.
HYNEMAN: We actually built a balloon out of lead that we were able to get to fly with helium in it. To do that, there’s no big explosions, it doesn’t involve weapons, death, or destruction, or any of the things we’re known for on the show — and yet the lengths that we had to go to make this actually happen, when you’re talking about lead foil that is about as strong as wet toilet paper and .0007 of in inch in thickness, so you can practically blow on it and it will fall apart…. It shows a lot of what we enjoy most about what we’re doing — the problem solving.
You did an episode where you tested the plausibility of some scenes in Jaws, including the ending. Did you ever hear from anyone associated with the film?
SAVAGE: No, I don’t think we ever had any contact at all, unfortunately.
HYNEMAN: We do get contacted all the time. We’ve been consulted by NASA, by Oak Ridge, by Sandia, by Lawrence Livermore, by about any institution that you can think of that does science and engineering. They either want some of our data or want to know about some of the materials or processes that we’re using. As far as movies, producers of major Hollywood films are not terribly interested in how we show that they got it wrong. [Savage laughs] I’m not sure why. The suspension of disbelief is not something that we’re reinforcing in the case of things like Jaws.
NEXT PAGE: ”At some point during season 3, we were looking for a new Build Team member…and while we were auditioning people, we got a call from Adam West’s agent asking us to consider Adam West.”
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: What is the most interesting call you’ve ever gotten?
ADAM SAVAGE: Actually, it came out of left field. At some point during season 3, we were looking for a new build team member, which eventually became Grant Imahara [a former Industrial Light & Magic animatronics engineer and model maker who operated R2-D2], and while we were auditioning people we got a call from Adam West’s, the original Batman’s, agent asking us to consider Adam West to be a MythBuster. [Laughs]
And did the two of you consider it?
SAVAGE: Oh yeah, we talked about it extensively, about how amazing that could be. It obviously didn’t end up happening, but if you ask Jamie, I think both of us would agree that Batman is the most MythBuster-ish superhero there is.
JAMIE HYNEMAN: As far as scientific consultations, the one that stands out was from Oak Ridge when we did explosive decompression, which involves testing whether if you had a gun on an airplane and you’re in flight, and the bullet accidentally goes through the skin of the airplane, will it just blow the whole side of the airplane out like they’ve shown in the movies? And so we actually got a hold of a full-size airliner, pressurized it appropriately so it was actually like it would be at altitude and went through a series of testing with just a small bullet, then a bigger hole and a bigger hole. That eventually involved a fairly high amount of high explosives that was required to replicate what you see in the movies. And Oak Ridge contacted us afterwards and wanted to get a copy of the footage because they had been trying to get funding to do that exact test, and indicated that they had intended to do it exactly the way we did it. Since then, they use that episode for training air marshals as to the realities of what happens if a gun goes off in an airplane. To us, that’s just amazing.
SAVAGE: Finding ourselves unwittingly in that peer group is incredibly satisfying.
I know you don’t care where your myths come from, but are there any other TV shows or movies that you’d really like to examine?
SAVAGE: I think there’s a good amount of material on Lost that could provide fodder for MythBusters testing. I can’t think of anything specific off the top of my head, but I’ve been an avid fan, and I know that there’s stuff to do with surviving on the island, things that they’ve built.
HYNEMAN: You name any kind of a thing, like Die Hard 2. There’s a classic shot that we’ve kind of already broached, about the jet fuel that is leaking out of the airplane and somebody lighting the match and it catching up with the airplane and exploding it before it takes off. I mean that one, we dealt with that in terms of gasoline, and it won’t even happen. Movies are just rife with this kind of thing, based in fact — yes, fuel does burn — but the reality of it is something else entirely.
SAVAGE: Basically, there’s no shortage of Hollywood getting the physics wrong and wherever they’re missing it, we’ve got material to work with. Now that Jamie said Die Hard, I just realize there’s another Die Hard myth that’s been on my mental list that I have to put on the real list, and I’m gonna do that as soon as I get to work today.
What is it?
SAVAGE: It’s too good, I don’t want to spoil it. I’m sorry to tease you like that.